A UPDF soldier casts his vote at Makindye, a Kampala suburb, during the February 2011 general election. PHOTO BY YUSUF MUZIRANSA
By JOHN NJOROGE
New findings say the post-election violence witnessed after the 2011 elections are a true reflection of the dissatisfaction in Uganda’s electoral processes.
Change of government in Uganda is unlikely to occur through elections in the current political environment, preliminary findings of a new appraisal of the 2011 poll reveal.
This indictment of Uganda’s electoral processes was inferred by academics from the Political Science department of Makerere University and the French Institute for Research and Development who are yet to formally publish findings of a research undertaken in collaboration with Deepening Democracy Facility in Uganda. Their initial conclusions were, however, unveiled at a conference held in Kampala yesterday. “Our research shows that the regime would not change with elections.
The electorate showed disillusionment. Uganda’s situation is unique with a hybrid regime,” French researcher Sandrine Perrot said. The assessment, which will focus renewed attention on the need for governance and electoral reforms in Uganda, also observes that the 2011 elections gave a “false impression” of the ruling National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) political strength and legitimacy amongst the Ugandan electorate.
The researchers looked at the roles played by elections in Uganda’s politics, election financing, the opposition and donors in Uganda’s democracy.President Museveni was declared winner of the February 2011 elections with 68.38 per cent of the ballot against nearest competitor, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change who was said to have garnered 26 per cent for a loose opposition coalition. This result was unanimously rejected by all opposition political parties who cited voter bribery, outright rigging and violence especially in upcountry areas.
Refusing to recognise Mr Museveni’s new government, the opposition launched a series of protests nationwide which attracted a brutal clampdown by the security services. Prior to the 2011 general election, Dr Besigye said he would not seek legal redress if the elections were contested – a declaration which was interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the country’s court system.
In 2001 and 2006, Dr Besigye unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn Mr Museveni’s declaration as winner of both polls. The judges said then that while noncompliance with the electoral law occurred in both elections, it did not affect the result substantially.
Today, the researchers further conclude that the 2011 post-election violence reflected public dissatisfaction with Uganda’s electoral processes. “Elections have become a ritual. The rise of elections without democracy is associated with the use of finances to rent loyalty,” Prof. Sabiti Makara of Makerere University said while making a presentation.
“Elections in Uganda do not necessarily reflect the actual will of the people. Rather, the 2011 elections particularly reflected an induced consent of the population as opposed to a voluntary appreciation of the regime,” Prof. Makara added.
The NRM government, Ms Perrot said, employs sophisticated methods of population control. According to the research, the government imposes itself on the population, while at the same time seeming to allow free will, which is not necessarily free, to be exercised.
The researchers noted what they described as President Museveni’s mastery of the art of persuasion when dealing with the international community’s concerns about democracy in the country. “He and his technocrats have exercised various tools of persuasion to woo diplomats who many a time change position. This happens very prominently in Uganda unlike anywhere else in the world,” Oxford University’s Jonathan Fisher, who was one of the speakers at yesterday’s conference, said.
Other findings also point at a failure of the international donor community to influence the democratisation process in Uganda. This, the researchers argued, is due to the ever changing interests of their mother nations and career pursuits of certain diplomats.
Interests in oil, the war on terror and issues of international diplomacy now overshadow democratic interest, the researchers said. “Democracy is not the only interest of donors. Rather than antagonise a government, career diplomats may want to be credited for helping to increase funding from their countries to government,” Mr Fisher added.
Reacting to the new findings, President Museveni’s spokesperson Tamale Mirundi yesterday described them as empty and lacking in an appreciation of Uganda’s history. “If Museveni is a good negotiator internationally, how then can he fail to convince Ugandans to vote for him,” Mr Mirundi said. “Uganda’s history has been characterised by poor elections since independence. Now we have regular free and fair elections and the population expresses its will,” Mr Mirundi added.